Armed guards to check piracy

The Union Shipping Ministry —-with tacit support from the Navy—-has forwarded a proposal to the Centre. But no decision has been taken so far even though the piracy attempts are showing no sign of abatement, sources said.

Currently, mariners in merchant vessels are not legally allowed to carry arms under the UN Convention on the Laws of Sea. But, with piracy proliferating, countries have relaxed their laws to allow carrying arms in commercial ships. The armed guards in Indian flag merchant ships will be in the line of sky-marshals in commercial aircraft, which has become a regular feature in all important routes in the wake of 9/11 and hijacking threats.

The proposal specifics on how many guards will be allowed per vessel and what type of arms they would carry, sources said, adding that former Coast Guard and Navy sailors offer this type of security services in Yemen and Sri Lanka.The government is also amending the IPC to make piracy a criminal offence. In the absence of a legal backup, pirates are being tried under other flimsy grounds. Navy has captured more than 100 pirates in the last three months.

Piracy attempts in the Indian Ocean region has doubled from 111 in 2008 to 217 in 2009 and 219 in 2010. Their focus now is on the 9 and 10 degrees channels through which 30-40 ships pass every day carrying petroleum, petro-products and other cargos for South Asia.

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